An 1892 Framed Plant Mount on display at the Thompson Library

The first director of The Ohio State University Herbarium and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. William Ashbrook Kellerman, prepared quite a large number of framed mounts of Ohio plants in 1892. According to the previous curator of the herbarium, Dr. Ronald L. Stuckey, these were “part of an exhibit of the Ohio flora displayed in the Ohio State Building … at the Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. The total collection consisted of a display of mounted specimens of leaves, twigs, flowers, fruits, section of wood and bark of Ohio’s forest trees, and flowering plants, mosses, lichens, and algae.”

One of these framed mounts, twigs and wood section of the white oak tree, Quercus alba L., is currently on display at the Thompson Library until May 14, 2017. Dr. Florian Diekmann, head of the Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Library and Student Success Center, was in contact with the staff of the OSU herbarium early June last year seeking help in displaying specimens of white oak as many of the wooden structures of the main library were obtained from that plant.

Since the original twigs and leaves were not in good condition and the glass was chipped in a corner, Dr. Diekmann agreed to have it restored and refurbished. This is just one of the many framed, mounted but not displayed items in the Herbarium hitherto. The idea behind the gallery is to show the “unique connections and history shared between The Ohio State University and Ohio’s forests.” The Ohio State University Herbarium was glad to share its resources with the general public and has also made other items available for display at the gallery.

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Mesfin Tadesse, curator OSU herbariumAbout the Author: Mesfin Tadesse is curator of vascular plants at The Ohio State University Herbarium.

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Hey, Four-Eyed Fish!

Sure, those of us who wore glasses when we were younger may have been called “Hey, four eyes!”.  But I wonder if anyone ever took offense to the level of “Hey, you four-eyed fish!”.  ‘Cause that would be combining two insults, the discrimination against an ocular disability and the idea that you were kind of cold…or wishy-washy…well, anyway.  I sometimes get to share the fact that I once caught a Four-eyed Fish, and recently I found out that the species belonging to the Genus Anableps that I caught is rather rare, so I feel even more special!

(Imagine me affecting a British accent here, to make my story sound more adventurous).  “There I was, standing in the river with my doughty crew, when one of the young stalwarts excitedly shouted “Quatros ojos, quatros ojos!””.  Yes, just a few feet away from me cruised the rare and dangerous (dangerous if you’re an insect, that is) Pacific Foureyed Fish Anableps dowei!

In 1999 I accompanied members of my church on a mission trip to the area of Siguatepeque, Honduras, to assist in building cement block housing for victims of Hurricane Mitch (in 1998 Mitch was responsible for the death of at least 11,000 people in Central America) that caused a flood perhaps 40 feet deep in a valley near Siguatepeque.  After the rest of the mission left I stayed behind to travel to the Pan American School of Agriculture near Tegucigalpa, where the fisheries instructor there graciously allowed me to accompany them on trips to waters near the school.

view of Universidad Zamorano

Universidad Zamorano. Photo by EAP Zamorano [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The streams we sampled were the mainstem and tributaries of the Rio Choluteca, the major river on the Pacific slope of Honduras that winds through mountainous terrain until it empties into the Gulf of Fonseca, an estuary shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.  At a site on the Choluteca, near the village of Zamorano, the school’s students and I seined up the Pacific Foureyed Fish (Anableps dowei).  This was a species I’d read about prior to making the trip, so when I heard the student’s cry I became quite excited!

Drawing of a Foureyed Fish

Drawing by Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The species is named for a Captain J. M. Dow, who skippered the steamer “Guatemala” of the Panama Railway Company.  Captain Dow collaborated with two associates to send over specimens from over 1500 samples in Central America to the U.S. National and the British Museums.

The reason for the Four-eyed Fish’s common name is the presence of two pupils in each eye, one in the upper and one in the lower half, separated by a band of tissue. This enables them to see above and below the water while they cruise at the surface of the water body and makes the Four-eyed Fish extremely difficult to catch with a seine: they are able to see you (or an eagle, or other bird of prey) coming from a long ways away. They are known to leap right over a seine and like fish in another family, topminnows, they dive down to the bottom to avoid capture.  An effective method of capture is described as using a group of fishermen to drive a school of quatros ojos toward a concealed individual waiting with a cast net that is thrown over the school, ensnaring a “bushel full” of the prey.

photo of Largescale Foureyes (from above water)

Largescale Foureyes, Trinidad. Photo by Charlesjsharp [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Anableps‘ eye is flattened on the top and rounded on the bottom half, with a thickening of the lens from the bottom to the top to adjust for the refractive differences in the two mediums.  The upper pupil casts the terrestrial image through the lens on the lower retina, while the lower pupil’s image is reflected on the upper retina.  The Four-eyed Fish’s eye recently inspired at least one contact lense company to develop lenses that work extremely well both out of and in the water.


Scheme of the eyes of a four-eyed fish showing the basic functions

Diagram of the eye of a four-eyed fish, [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

1. Underwater retina 2. Lens 3. Air pupil 4. Tissue band 5. Iris 6. Underwater pupil 7. Air retina 8. Optic nerve

Swimming at the surface with the head exposed is relatively unusual for fishes in general, but species of this genus show other oddities as well.  Not only do the quatros ojos leap out of and skip along the surface of the water, but when they see terrestrial insects on the banks they will actually leap onto the shallow, inundated bank side areas to capture their prey.  These fish have been observed lying in the sun, sometimes for several minutes, before pushing their way back into the water.  Once they’re out of the water their mobility is severely limited since unlike eels they cannot locomote with a wriggling motion, nor can they push off with their tails to leap forward on land. Unlike mudskippers and the “walking” catfish their pectoral fins are unsuited to pulling themselves along.  So, although they may push themselves along with their tail and pectoral fins to chase their prey, the extent to which they are able to do so is severely limited.

Another anomaly that characterizes anablepids is that their genital organs are oriented either to the left or right, thus they can reproduce only with mates having compatible organs.  They share this character with the group of species to which they are said to be most closely related, the “One-Sided Livebearers”, or Jennysina.  The functional significance of this anomaly is not known.  Anableps species are viviparious, meaning the young are birthed live rather than from an egg deposited in the water.  The eggs are carried to term inside follicles in the female’s ovary at which point they hatch and are extruded from the genital pore.  The male of the species has a gonopodium, a modified anal fin ray that develops as the males mature and facilitates placement of the sperm into the oviduct, fertilizing the female’s eggs.

At present three species of Four-eyed Fish are recognized: Anableps anableps, the Largescale Foureyes, is found in South America from the island of Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela to the Amazon Basin of Brazil.  Anableps dowei, the Pacific Foureyes, has the most limited distribution of the three species, occurring in Central America from southern Mexico to Nicaragua. Anableps microlepis, the Foureyes, is the most salt tolerant species of the three. They are found in open marine areas in full seawater (also from Trinidad to the Amazon Basin in Brazil) and follow tidal rhythms, moving up into sheltered lagoons and further upstream with the high tides, and back out into open waters as the tide wanes.

Anableps congregate in schools of up to 200 or so as juveniles, with their gregariousness decreasing with age until at adulthood they are as likely to be found as individuals as in small groups.  Some of their known fish associates include characins, pimelodid catfish, poeciliids, atherinids, eleotrids, flatfishes and cichlids.

If you are looking for an unusual fish for your aquarium the species that is most commonly available from suppliers (there are several that raise their own stock), the Four-Eyed Fish, is moderately hardy, but they are comparatively large in size, growing to around a foot in length.  Since they are surface swimmers they do best in a long, relatively shallow tank in fresh to moderately brackish water (depending on the species).  They are gregarious so it is best not to keep them singly or in pairs.  They will probably do well with Sailfin Mollies, bottom-dwelling Gobies, Mudskippers, and even Orange Chromide Cichlids, Archer Fish and Monodactylus.

The Family Anablepidae is placed within the Order Cyprinodontiformes (and, the Pacific Foureyed Fish attains the largest size of any species in that order).  That order contains a bounty of fascinating forms, with a wide variety of reproductive types, a plethora of adaptations to environments, and high importance in terms of biogeography.  My next post will portray some of those very diverse species.

About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Associate Curator of the Fish Division at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

*** Have you ever seen a four-eyed fish? Let us know, leave a comment ***

Vascular Plant Type Specimens in The Ohio State University Herbarium

Today we introduce type specimens kept in The Ohio State University Herbarium. But first let us briefly introduce the herbarium and what a type specimen of a plant is.

The Ohio State University Herbarium was established in 1891, 21 years after the founding of the university. Since its inception, the vascular plant collections [all seed-bearing plants and ferns], as well as the non-vascular plant collections [mosses and liverworts], have grown rapidly through the efforts of the many plant collectors from Ohio and beyond, and through gifts, exchanges and purchases. The total holdings of vascular plants are estimated at over 550,000 specimens. The collection, having been built up over a period of nearly 126 years, is a state treasure. It continues to be augmented and studied by many experts interested in various groups of plants as well as in some aspects of Ohio vegetation. The herbarium preserves specimens as vouchers to document past and present research studies on vegetation. Such documentation may increase the value of the research study by making it possible for future workers to determine, without any doubt, what plants were used in the original research. An important special case of this is the preservation of specimens of the original plant material that was used to describe and give a name to a new species or sub-specific entity. These are called type specimens and are often simply called “types”. They are specimens on which the naming of plants and plant populations (as variety or subspecies)  are based, and in a sense they serve as the key to the name of a plant. In the event of any discrepancy between independent descriptions of a species or any element of it, now or in the past, researchers can go back to the type specimen, and clarify the matter. For this reason, type specimens are among the most valuable entities in any collection, including the OSU herbarium. The effort is to have only a single type specimen for each name associated with a plant or its population, although in the past, that is, before the adoption of the type concept, many specimens were often used to describe and name a particular plant species.

Because of their value, type specimens are given special care by curators of herbaria. Since a while back an active search has been conducted to find and remove type specimens from the OSU collection for storage in a special cabinet (see photo).  Currently over 470 sheets representing more than 100 vascular plant taxa have been confirmed as type specimens and photographs of types in our collection. Type specimens along with type photographs are, therefore, treasures of all times. Their preservation and safety is one of the priorities in the herbarium. Type specimens are kept in a separate and special case. This precludes unnecessary handling and permits more adequate inspection for possible harm (e.g. insect infestation). The case containing type specimens is placed on a wheeled cart with a sign “TYPE COLLECTION REMOVE FIRST IN CASE OF FIRE” consequently it’s easy to take it out first or quickly, during an emergency.

A greater and more tragic loss of literally thousands of type specimens resulted from the partial burning of the great herbarium at Berlin, The Federal Republic of Germany, in 1943. Type specimens are not, and should not, be used or handled any more than is necessary. Curators of many herbaria are reluctant to send out type specimens on loan to other botanists or institutions. They insist that researchers must first attempt at establishing identities of their research materials with the help of protologues (all original materials associated with a newly published name, including its description, diagnosis, illustrations, synonyms, studied specimens, etc.), the original species description, and the available electronic images of many types in databases of institutions and herbaria.  It is only after these have failed and that the researcher is in dire need of examining particular details of these types, that they are willing to send types on loan. In our previous post, we illustrated how the type specimen of the Ohio Buckeye was brought, not sent by mail, to Ohio from Berlin. Part of the agreement with the Berlin herbarium then was that it will have to be taken from Berlin and sent back to Berlin with a staff member of the department, thus indicating the level of care that the institution placed on its type collections. Today, many of the type specimens kept in The Ohio State University Herbarium are available for viewing online through Global Plants, the world’s largest database of digitized plant specimens. Researchers are encouraged to check this and similar websites first in order to examine a type  specimen, be it from Ohio or elsewhere.

We will show you more samples of type specimens and how researchers make these first descriptions on Friday!


Mesfin Tadesse, curator OSU herbariumAbout the Authors: Mesfin Tadesse is curator of vascular plants at Ohio State University Herbarium; Azam Abdollahazadeh is a Research Scholar on a short-term visit to the OSU herbarium.

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Knull, the artist

As we discussed in our previous post, Josef Knull was well-recognized as a curator, a collector, and as an expert in wood-boring beetles. As a taxonomist he studied and described new genera and many new species of beetles in various families.

However, there’s another side of Joe Knull that hasn’t gotten the same attention: his talent as an artist. While moving some old books around the other day, we found a few pieces of what looks like a poster presentation by Joe Knull that provides information on how to draw on Ross board.  This is a textured scratch board for making drawings. A skilled artist, by varying the intensity of shading and, hence, accentuating the texture on the Ross board, can practically bring a two-dimensional drawing to life! According to Chuck Triplehorn, Joe was proficient in various drawing techniques and was particularly good at indicating shape and surface texture through the use of stippling.

Joe’s 1924 Master’s thesis (archived in the OSU Library holdings) contains a number of detailed illustrations of beetle species found in Pennsylvania. Here are some photos of the original plates.


Many of Joe’s publications contain original illustrations of specimens, signed with a simple and elegant ‘J.N.K.’ For example, “A new species of Mecas in Texas” includes a beautiful drawing of Mecas linsleyi and “A New Subspecies of Acmaeodera Quadrivittata Horn” a drawing of Acmaeodera quadrivittata cazie. For those interested in seeing more of Joe Knull’s scientific illustrations, PDFs of his publications are available in the Ohio Journal of Science via the OSU’s Knowledge Bank.

We never met Joe Knull in person. Chuck Triplehorn mentions Joe’s wry sense of humor, but overall our image of him was that of a tough, strict, mostly surly kind of guy. That is, until we saw his paintings, the ones he did for fun. There’s a certain vulnerability and playfulness that we did not associate with Knull before and that is very refreshing. There’s certainly more to Joe, as to most of us, than the work we do.

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We thank Sally Wilson, Dorothy J. Knull’s nice, for the photos of Joe Knull’s paintings. She tells us that the paintings hang on her grandsons’ walls.


☘ Knull, J. N. 1924. The Buprestidae of Pennsylvania. Thesis. The Ohio State University.


About the Authors: Dr. Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist and Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection; Dr. Norman Johnson is Professor of Entomology and Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

The Knull Legacy

For the past several weeks, Zach Griebenow (undergraduate student assistant, blogger, majoring in Entomology), and I, with some help from Abbie Zimmer (volunteer, majoring in Art) and Dr. Natalia Molotievskiy, have been reorganizing the beetle holdings of the Triplehorn collection to reflect the changes in the classification of the Coleoptera at the superfamily and family levels (per Bouchard et al., 2011).  This is a laborious process that involves moving (almost) all of the 1,629 (heavy!) wooden drawers containing beetles. On any given day we may move 100-200 drawers in a couple of hours. We are now more than two-thirds of the way done and hope to finish ‘the big switcheroo’ in 2-3 weeks. This re-organization is a big step, and it will greatly facilitate the next phase of the re-curation and digitization of the beetles in the collection.

As we worked, moving drawers in and out of tall metal cabinets, I had a chance to look at the contents of the collection again, not with the critical eye of the professional whose job is to upgrade the curatorial status of it, but with the eye of the student who was seeing it for the first time. This rekindled my appreciation for Joe Knull’s work and his dedication to the collection.

Josef N. Knull

Josef N. Knull

For those unfamiliar with the Triplehorn Insect Collection’s history, Josef Nissley Knull (1891-1975) was hired in 1934 as the full-time curator of insects, and that marks the initiation of a formal entomological collection at Ohio State.

Joe Knull was notoriously meticulous in his care for the collection. He was held up by most entomologists across the country as the extreme example of tidiness and organization. We still have many drawers of beetles that were arranged by him: long series of accurately determined, properly mounted, neatly positioned, and perfectly preserved specimens. There are many stories about Joe’s strict rules in the collection: no smoking, no whistling, no careless people, absolutely no breaking specimens. He allegedly kept a list of all the people who broke specimens. Unfortunately, we have no hard evidence that this list existed, but those who knew him say it would be very much like Joe to do that.

For 28 ½ years Professor Knull devoted his career to the expansion and arrangement of the collection. Each summer of all those years, and those afterward during his retirement, was spent in the field with his wife and fellow entomologist, Dr. Dorothy Johnson Knull. Both were outstanding collectors, and the results of their efforts are reflected in the volume and diversity of material they added to the collection.

Joe was interested in all insects, but he was dedicated to the study of beetles. He published more than 190 papers between 1918 and 1975, particularly on the families Buprestidae, Cerambycidae, Elateridae and Cleridae (Davidson & Bellamy, 2002). The many years of field work with emphasis on beetles, particularly in the Midwestern and  Southwestern states, resulted in a truly outstanding collection of North American Coleoptera.

Professor Josef Knull retired from OSU in January of 1962, but continued collecting and contributing to the OSU collection until the early 1970’s. He died, here in Columbus, on April 24, 1975 at the age of 83. His legacy lives on in every publication generated by the use of the specimens he so carefully collected and preserved, in every visit the collection receives by scientists from the US and abroad, in every specimen image we make available online, in every database query of the 148,154 beetle specimens we have already digitized.

We started re-curating the beetles in 2011. To date, the Carabidae, all 41,466 of them, have been moved to archival quality trays and entirely digitized. Our student assistants are now deep into the digitization of the Tenebrionidae, a whopping 65,150 specimens.  Our volunteers are helping with collection organization. As we continue on with the task of re-curating and digitizing this vast beetle collection (estimated at around 1 million specimens), we keenly feel the responsibility of living up to Joe’s high standards of collection care. I hope he would approve of our work.

Check out the collection’s Facebook page for more photos of Joe Knull and other personalities in our history.

If you are interested in learning more about our work, or would like to volunteer to help us tackle this enormous project, please get in touch.



☘ Davidson, J. M. & C. L. Bellamy. 2002. The Entomological Contributions of Josef Nissley Knull (1891 – 1975). Zootaxa 37: 1-24.

☘ Bouchard et al. 2011. Family-Group Names In Coleoptera (Insecta). ZooKeys 88: 1-972.

☘ An earlier version of this article appeared in the MBDNewsletter Spring Semester 2013, page 4.  Johnson & Musetti. The Knull Legacy – Joe Knull.

For more about Zach Griebenow, read his interview to Paige Brown Jarreau at From the Lab Bench blog.


About the Authors: Dr. Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist and Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection; Dr. Norman Johnson is Professor of Entomology and Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

The Bloater: A Complicated Story

You may recall from my last post that I mentioned a fish species from the recent Tom Simon Fish Collection acquisition, the “Bloater” Coregonus hoyi.  This is a species that in the recent past has been considered endangered, indeed it was known to be extirpated from some of the Great Lakes and thought to perhaps be on its way to extinction across the rest of its distribution.  Herein I’ll detail some of the reasons for which the bloater came to be in such peril.  But for now, allow me to follow a rabbitfish trail (ahem):

Perhaps you have wondered why this fish is named so cruelly?  Perhaps, one might think, the name was given in less politically correct days when short shrift was given to a fish’s feelings, but that is simply not the case.  No, the name actually describes the propensity of the species’ swim bladder to expand and make it look fat when it is trawled from the deep, colder waters that it prefers.  So you see it actually does have to do with the poor fish having a tendency to be gassy.

OSUM 117265 Coregonus hoyi "bloater"

Yes, that bladder does make you look fat! OSUM 117265 Coregonus hoyi 195mm SL 1 of 18 specimens from jar 1 of 3

The rapid ascent from the fairly extreme depths, down to almost 700 feet where the fish resides, and consequent distension of the bladder does cause more than just discomfort for the fish. The complexity of the connection to the gas bladder in the bloaters renders them unable to quickly discharge the air and liable to bursting upon fast ascent from depths.  In many species of fish the swim bladder is directly connected to the gut and the fish can use this connection to directly control the amount of gas in the bladder. This physostomous swim bladder occurs mainly in fish living in shallow waters and swallow air that is passed into the gut and forced into the swim bladder. Not so in the Bloater. Fish in the order Salmoniformes, such as the Bloater, share a character with other advanced fishes: the physoclistous swim bladder. This gas bladder has no direct connection to the alimentary canal but some areas of the membrane separating gut and bladder are very thin and well supplied with capillaries that allow rapid gas exchange. This gas gland secretes oxygen into the swim bladder through the rete mirabile, literally “a wonderful net” of capillaries.

Diagram of the arterial/venous transfer to the gas bladder via the rete mirabile

The Bloater is one of several  “whitefish” species that have become rare and imperiled, some to the point of extinction. Bloaters are invertivores – you guessed right, feed on invertebrates – at all stages of their lives and formerly fed in open water (Many other fish species are invertivores at immature stages and shift their diets to larger prey including vertebrates as adults).  It has been documented that bloaters (and some other fish species) have changed their feeding habits in response to competition from the invasive Alewife Alosa pseudoharengus to feed on benthic invertebrates.  Happily for the bloaters they seem to have benefited, in the long run, from the Alewife invasion.

But there are several other reasons for the drastic declines seen among the bloater populations during the mid-1900’s:  Whitefish provide table fare for many piscivorous people, the fish-eaters among you.  The major upswing of humans in the Midwest region caused concordant increases in demand for food sources, and people began to realize that the Great Lakes could provide fish aplenty to help meet that need.  The lakes and rivers of the Midwest states at one time “teemed with fish”, according to several historians that wrote during that era of expansion and discovery. It seemed that the bounty was inexhaustible, and fishermen quickly capitalized on the surging market, filling their trawl nets to capacity for several decades.

Until, at varying points depending on the species being taken, the catches began to dwindle.  Before long the fishermen began to realize that conservationists were correct in their assessment that the boom wasn’t going to last, and regulations were put in place to husband the resources. However, other influences began to make themselves known, some with alarming results. Compounding the effects of overfishing was the connection of Lake Ontario to Lake Erie via the Welland Canal ca. 1830 that enabled incursion of several invasive fish species:  First to make an impact was the Alewife, a relatively small fish species in the herring family Clupeidae. Alewives compete with coregonids and other fish species for planktonic prey, to the point where diets for some forms shifted from zooplankton to benthic foods, feeding at the lowest level of the water body. Those species that couldn’t adapt their diets disappeared, became smaller or declined in numbers.  The next invader to have a significant impact on bloaters was the Sea Lamprey Petromyzon marinus. Sea Lampreys are piscivorous parasites (or is that parasitic piscivores?) for approximately a year of their several years’ long life cycle.  The invasive lamprey arrived in the Great Lakes in the early 1900’s and by the mid 1900’s had decimated populations of several salmoniform species. It is thought that one reason fish species like Lake Trout, and Lake Whitefish and other coregonids, fared so poorly with the Sea Lampreys is that they tend to inhabit deeper, colder areas of the Great Lakes where the lampreys prefer to feed.  For example, bloaters are most commonly found at a depth of 90 – 680 feet in water temperatures between 34-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Thanks to the monumental efforts of our conservation agencies the Sea Lamprey populations are under reasonably good control to the point where Great Lakes fishes are much safer!



McDonald, M. E., Crowder, L. B., & Brandt, S. B. (1990). Changes in Mysis and Pontoporeia populations in southeastern Lake Michigan: a response to shifts in the fish community. Limnology and Oceanography, 35(1), 220-227.


About the Author: Marc Kibbey is Associate Curator of the Fish Division at the Museum of Biological Diversity.


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What is a buckeye?

During the football season, we are accustomed to seeing Brutus Buckeye dancing on the sidelines, shaking his enlarged head, and helping to stimulate enthusiasm for our team on the gridiron. Opposing teams usually have mascots that are more easily recognizable, such as a lion, or badger, or valiant soldier. What, then, is a buckeye?

The term “buckeye” originated from indigenous peoples noticing that European immigrants coming into Ohio had larger eyes, similar to those of the male (buck) deer. The settlers, therefore, were called buckeyes.

Seed of the Ohio buckeye.

Seed of the Ohio buckeye.

One of the native trees in Ohio, which we now call the Ohio buckeye, has large seeds that also resemble large buck eyes, which led to application of the name as the buckeye tree. This common name was applied to the entire tree and any of its parts. Our mascot, Brutus, represents one seed of the Ohio buckeye tree, attached, obviously, to a human body. This is a most unusual mascot. Most institutions use fierce animals or symbols of strength; very few have a plant. A seed in flowering plants is always formed within a fruit, which in the case of the Ohio buckeye is large, leathery, and slightly prickly. One to several seeds are formed inside. The tree can be up to 30 feet tall, and the leaves are divided into segments.

Leaves and fruits of the Ohio buckeye tree.

Leaves and fruits of the Ohio buckeye tree.

One of the attractive aspects of the buckeye tree is the colorful display of yellow flower clusters (inflorescences) that appears in late Spring throughout the state. The buckeye is used by The Ohio State University as part of the University seal, showing a leaf with two fruits (Fig. 3).

A pennant containing the official seal of The Ohio State University.

A pennant containing the official seal of The Ohio State University.

The Ohio buckeye came into the scientific world as a new species, under the name Aesculus glabra, described by Professor Carl Ludwig Willdenow, Director of the Botanical Garden in Berlin, Germany. Seeds were collected about 1803 from some unknown locality in Ohio or neighboring state and sent to Berlin for germination. It grew successfully in the garden, and when the small tree flowered, a specimen was prepared, with Prof. Willdenow describing it as new to science in 1809.  This specimen is called the nomenclatural type (holotype) and is forever associated with its scientific name.  In a certain sense, this can be regarded as the original buckeye.

The original specimen (holotype) of Aesculus glabra Willdenow.

The original specimen (holotype) of Aesculus glabra Willdenow.

Because of the importance of Aesculus glabra to the state of Ohio and The Ohio State University, a campaign was initiated in 1985 to bring the original buckeye to campus. This was not an easy endeavor, because the Berlin Botanical Garden and Museum had never loaned any of the historically important Willdenow specimens to another institution.  After serious negotiations, and in recognition of the help that the United States had made through the Marshall Plan to reconstruction of Germany after World War II, the holotype of the Ohio buckeye was loaned to Ohio State in the summer of 1987 for several months. It was hand carried from Berlin to Columbus. Thanks to financing from the office of the President at OSU, a special mount was made for the specimen, which allowed it to be placed on an easel for display.  Housed in the Herbarium of the University, at that time still in the Botany and Zoology building at 12th and Neil Avenue (now Jennings Hall), it was taken on tour to alumni clubs in the state. Most exciting, however, was the presentation of the holotype on 14 November 1987 on the 50-yard line during the Ohio State-University of Iowa home game to the assembled fans. President Jennings formally received the specimen for the University, assisted by me and Prof. Daniel Crawford, the Chair of the Department of Botany.  Even Brutus had the opportunity to get to know his scientific origins.

Different parts of the buckeye tree are used as memorabilia or symbols. Very popular are necklaces made of actual seeds, which can be worn in the stadium to help cheer on the players. Also popular, especially to folks with a sweet-tooth, are the buckeye candies resembling seeds, with peanut butter centers bathed in chocolate.

Socks bearing Buckeye symbols from a local souvenir shop.

Socks bearing Buckeye symbols from a local souvenir shop.

In addition to these obvious symbols, there are countless items in souvenir shops that have images of buckeye seeds and/or leaves, ranging from socks to hats, and including underwear and toilet seats!  The football players even receive a buckeye leaf on their helmets, a badge of honor, after completing an outstanding play during the game.

The Ohio buckeye, therefore, is an important part of the fiber of life at Ohio State University. It is satisfying that the center of all the attention is a plant. We in the Herbarium are delighted that all members of the university community are continually reminded of the importance of the botanical sciences, especially in the Autumn season during each football game!


od Stuessy, professor emeritus at EEOBAbout the Author: Tod F. Stuessy is Professor Emeritus at the OSU Herbarium.



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The Plumose Anemone

In addition to serving as a source of amusing common names, books like Gosse’s “A History of the British Sea Anemones and Corals” can be a source of gorgeous and informative illustrations. The images here all depict the species Gosse called “The Plumose Anemone.” Metridium senile is common on both coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean and has close relatives in temperate Pacific waters (some of these have been called M. senile, but are now recognized as distinct species). The drawings in these five guides highlight several of the key field attributes of the species and manage to convey a sense of the beauty of the animals. Scanned copies of most of these books are available through the “Biodiversity heritage Library.”

A history of the British sea-anemones and corals” by Philip Henry Gosse (1858)

A popular history of British zoophytes or corallines” by the Rev. D. Landsborough (1852)

A Manual of the sea anemones commonly found on the English coast” by the Rev. George Tugwell (1856)

British Zoophytes” by Arthur S. Pennington (1885)

“The British Sea Anemones” by T. A. Stephenson (1935)

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On the plate of Metridium senile from Gosse’s (1858) guide to British anemones and corals note the undulating oral disc, a characteristic of the species. All of the plates in Gosse’s treatise are based on watercolors he made of living specimens.

Landsborough’s (1852) “Popular History of Zoophytes” preceded Gosse’s treatment of sea anemones, corals and their kin. As the plate label shows, at the time this book was published, the accepted name for the species was Actinia dianthus.

Tugwell’s (1856) “Manual of Sea Anemones” also preceded Gosse’s treatise. The frontispiece of this volume includes a fold-out color plate of M. senile that shows both the undulating disc and short tentacles characteristic of this species.

The figure from Pennington’s (1885) “British Zoophytes” strongly recalls Gosse’s plate, suggesting that the latter was inspiration or template for the line drawing upon which this figure is based.

Stephenson’s (1935) guide “The British Sea Anemones” included watercolor-based plates that rival Gosse’s for their beauty and level of scientific detail. This plate shows the color diversity in M. senile and depicts the tentacles from above and the side.

In addition to showing the whole of M. senile, Stephenson (1935) included tentacles of the species (upper R and L corners) in a fanciful but effective compilation intended to highlight differences in arrangement, shape, and coloration of tentacles in the various species of sea anemone in Britain.


About the Author: Dr. Meg Daly is Professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, director of the Museum of Biological Diversity and leads the laboratory of marine invertebrate diversity at OSU. She and her students study systematics of cnidaria, sea anemones, jellyfish and their like.

Historical record of our museum documented by Carol Stein

Once upon a time there was an amazing naturalist by the name of Carol B. Stein. She was a remarkable woman whose accomplishments were too numerous to be outlined in a single blog post. We’ll be sharing more about Dr. Stein in future posts, from images of her admirable field journals to an explanation of how she began to digitize the freshwater mussel collection LONG before anyone else even recognized that it would become standard… but that story isn’t quite ready for mass perusal.
Today, instead, we’re going to learn a little bit about the history of the Museum of Biological Diversity from a scrapbook gifted to us by Dr. Stein upon her passing in 2010. She put together a binder in 1970 and filled it with a historical record of the museum as it existed at the time. I’ve included a somewhat amended version of it here.
Back then the collections, now housed at 1315 Kinnear Rd, were in the basement of Sullivant Hall, now home to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
Carol Stein’s original document focused on showing panoramic views of every storage area and office of the museum and was a bit too mollusc-centric to be interesting viewing for our non-malacologist readers. I’ve attempted to highlight any images of the storage areas that are artistically beautiful photographs or those that describe the nature of the inner workings of the museum at the time of the photos.
This post and the following one on Friday are going to be an exploration of the inside of a museum 46 years ago. There are many parts that are shockingly similar to what you can see today such as the constant challenge of space management and the barely tempered chaotic nature of collecting. Of particular interest, the more disparate aspects of then and now, visible in images showing the old public exhibits at the museum. The bird display is quite ambitious, well-executed, and rather terrible for the specimens. Now those specimens live primarily in drawers, protected from the more preventable ravages of time.
One of the bird specimen displays

One of the bird specimen displays

These images tell the story of one of most challenging aspects of a museum: Maintaining an ever-shifting balance between accessibility and preservation. In order for a collection to seem inviting and available to museum patrons it must be regularly (or even constantly) subjected to the evils of dust, light, and air. For biological specimens this leads to rapid deterioration. The solution of course, is to have all specimens sealed away at all times. Unfortunately a complete and utter lack of visible collections makes for an uninspiring and less-than-educational museum experience. The struggle, then, lies in determining a happy medium between a museum’s archival role and its role as a public resource. It’s no small task, especially when paired with a chronic shortage of time, money, and space.
First, below, a look at the operations-side of a museum. On Friday look forward to images of the exhibits no longer present in modern iterations of the museum.

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sara-klipsAbout the Author: Sara Klips, the mussel fairy, still acting as historian.

Historic perspective

In a previous post in this blog, readers were asked if they have ever wondered about the history of the Museum of Biological Diversity.

I’m a bit of a history buff and interested in how things happened back in the day. It’s a bit painful to admit it, but I’m one of the few faculty and staff left in the Museum who was actually present when we moved into our current building on Kinnear Road back in 1992. Unfortunately, it seems that we don’t have coherent and comprehensive written documentation of how we morphed from a bunch of separate collections into our current structure. But I thought it would be fascinating to see what pieces of history are available.

I went back to the Triplehorn Insect Collection files and found, for example, the second part of the 1982 Association of Systematics Collections newsletter (Vol. 10, No. 2), the one that refers to the Triplehorn collection. I also found a lot of historical records that I did not even know were there (thanks to my co-author, Dr. Musetti, for her careful curation of the collection’s historical documents and records.)

The Museum of Biological Diversity (MBD) at the Ohio State University is a relatively young facility. The building was dedicated in 1992. The objective was to house the OSU biological collections, well, with the exception of the Orton Geology Museum. In the 24 years since, the outside face of the museum has not changed much, but the faces inside – both the people and the physical layout – have changed a fair bit.

We have found some early documents of the Museum’s opening (see photos below), including the agenda of its official dedication on Dec. 3, 1992. (PDF version)

Gary Floyd was the Dean of the College of Biological Sciences in those days, and the University President was E. Gordon Gee (in his first stint in Columbus). Guest speakers included the eminent Peter Raven, then Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a list of other honors and titles as long as your arm.

One of the bits of historica that I found interesting was an early mission statement. It reflects the typical University mandate of excellence in teaching, research and service, but supplemented by the aspiration to be “an important public attraction.” Also included was a quick fact sheet about each of the collections.

There is also evidence of the lack of history. For example, this Ohio State celebratory newsletter from 1995 (see photos below) highlights 125 events and accomplishments that made the university great, but does not mention the dedication of the new Museum, which had happened just two years before. I was shocked, shocked I say, to find that omission! Well, the University’s sesquicentennial is coming up in just a few years, so there will be a chance for that situation to be rectified.

The individual collections that make up the MBD have a long history that starts well before our move in 1992 and, in some cases, dates back to the beginnings of the University.  Faculty, curators, and other personnel associated with the collections have been saving tidbits of our history for as long as the collections exist. Each of the collections has records and anecdotes of that history, including photos, copies of newspaper and magazine articles, official documents, etc., so my co-author and I trust that we will continue to revisit this general topic in future blog posts. We hope you enjoy it. Let us know by adding a comment here on the blog or via the Museum Facebook page.

About the authorsDr. Norman Johnson (Professor in EEOB & Entomology, and the Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection) co-wrote this post with Dr. Luciana Musetti (Entomologist and the current Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.)  Images belong to the Triplehorn Insect Collection.